Saturday, October 10, 2009

More Peace Prize Reaction

The surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama has touched off an interesting debate on his accomplishments. There is no real dispute that it is still early in President Obama's term, and that he cannot claim any solid, completed achievements such as a treaty or other resolution of an international conflict. Nevertheless, there is significant disagreement, largely on partisan lines, as to whether Obama deserves the award. That suggests that people are using different criteria for determining who is deserving of a peace prize. This disagreement also suggests that many people still do not understand or appreciate the nature of Barack Obama's achievement, and the transformation he has already effected in the course of being elected president.

Whether one supports or is hostile to Obama may spring from two fundamentally different ways of looking at the world. The first way is to view the world as comprised of a number of hostile forces that must be overcome. Your mission in this view of the world is to defeat these hostile forces, usually by demonstrating your own superior power. The second way is to view the world as comprised of a number of problems that must be solved. In order to solve those problems, you need to bring together the competing forces that view these problems in different ways, and attempt to find common ground with these differing views. What Barack Obama achieved even before he became president, was to persuade the voters of America that they ought to try viewing the world in a more problem-solving way, instead of an adversarial way. The world view of both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, the two candidates he defeated, comes from the more traditional, combative approach to politics and to governance. Because Barack Obama has been able to bring America around to a more problem-solving, and unifying vision of the future, he has already changed the image of the United States around the world. Note that I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is a pacifist. He has already decided to wage a more vigorous war in Afghanistan, and he also doesn't shy away from fights with political adversaries at home. What I am saying is that Obama's instincts are more conciliatory than adversarial. He would rather bring parties together than try to find ways to divide them.

I think the main reason Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was that he already been able to transform the way Americans view the world, which has in turn changed the way the rest of the world views America. That is not an insignificant accomplishment. I also think that people who feel Obama is undeserving of this award are mainly people who are fundamentally opposed to a problem-solving, unifying vision of the world. They believe that attempting to find common cause with one's adversaries is dangerously naive, that compromise should be scorned, and that the only proper way to deal with opposing views is to fight and defeat them. In other words, people who don't think President Obama deserved the peace prize could be people who are not really on board with the whole peace concept, or who think that the only reliable way to achieve peace is through strength.

My conclusion as to the reasons behind the hostility to the peace award is in part based on comments to my previous post on this topic below, as well as reaction I provoked to comments I made on the Common Sense Political Thought blog, as well as reading the reactions of a number of prominent conservatives. I should note that there are quite a few Obama critics on the left who also view the world in an adversarial manner (for example critics who advocate fighting harder to ram the liberal agenda through the Congress). It is interesting that some of those people also seem wary of embracing the President's receipt of the Peace Prize. (another example here)

Finally, I think that whatever one's degree of skepticism of the Obama approach, people should remember that we are talking about a peace prize, after all. Peace prizes are not generally awarded to successful generals, or others who advocate vanquishing one's enemies on the battlefield, even when those enemies are real and need to be vanquished. There are other awards for recognition of bravery in battle. So whether one fully supports President Obama's transformative vision of the way politics should be conducted, or whether one believes that the president is hopelessly out of touch with reality, maybe we could find some common ground in agreeing that the qualities that the Nobel committee might have been seeking to reward do seem to fit in the peace category.


  1. Our esteemed host concluded:

    So whether one fully supports President Obama's transformative vision of the way politics should be conducted, or whether one believes that the president is hopelessly out of touch with reality, maybe we could find some common ground in agreeing that the qualities that the Nobel committee might have been seeking to reward do seem to fit in the peace category.

    By that standard, surely President Bush should have been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was, after all, trying to end tyranny in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bring democracy and human rights there. He tried to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process moving again, and was the first president to officially endorse the notion of an independent Palestinian nation. He greatly increased American funding to combat AIDS in Africa, he responded to natural disasters around the world with American assistance. To wit: he actually accomplished more than President Obama has, even if one notes that President Obama hasn't had the time to get much done.

    Of course, when we look at past Peace prize recipients, we don't always see a lot. Yassir Arafat won, for agreeing to the Oslo Accords and promising to end terrorist attacks -- but he broke that promise. Le Duc Tho won for the Paris Peace Accords, to which neither he nor any of the North Vietnamese leadership had any intention of adhering. Kofi Annan and the United Nations won, for preventing no wars, and solving no problems. I'm just not certain why Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler didn't share the award for 1938.

    To me, peace means more than simply the absence of open warfare. By that kind of standard, slaves are at peace, as long as they are not in open revolt against their masters.

  2. Bush does not get the peace prize because he responded to 9/11 by declaring war on terror; then he launched a war in Afghanistan; then he invaded Iraq. The issue is not whether he was wrong or right in doing those things. I will grant that you can make a case for starting all these wars, and you can even argue that Bush should have started another war against Iran as some of his advisors wanted to do. The issue is whether he should get the peace prize. I don't think you get a peace prize for starting wars. So if the Iraqis want to erect a monument to George Bush for ridding their country of the evil dictator Saddam Hussein, that would be fine with me, but I don't think they would call it a monument to peace.

    I would not argue that tolerating slavery is a good thing, or that only peaceful solutions should be considered as a means of eradicating slavery. Advocating violent resistance to slavery, as John Brown did, is obviously a non-peaceful solution to the problem. And maybe the Civil War proved that John Brown was right. The Civil War can be justified because it brought an end to slavery. That makes its cause righteous, but it does not make it peaceful. But we might have brought an end to slavery in this country in a non-violent way. Maybe that would have been better; maybe that would have been worse if another generation had had to live under slavery. The question is which is more peaceful. The Civil Rights movement was a largely peaceful movement, and most people would agree that it was better to bring about change in a peaceful way.

  3. Nobody who has been in office for 11 days deserves the Peace Prize. Period.

  4. The eleven days you are referring to I believe comes from the February 1 deadline for nominations for the Peace Prize. Most likely Obama was nominated sometime before the final day for nominations. Lots of people are eligible to submit nominations, and I'm not sure there are any qualifications or limitations on who can be nominated. So more than likely Obama was not even in office at all at the time he was nominated for the award.

    But the award was not voted upon until a few days ago. If my understanding of the process is correct, the committee is not restricted to considering events that occurred prior to the February 1 nomination deadline. Nor would they only consider actions by the nomineee after he has been elected to some office. In this case, I'm sure they took into account Obama's actions during the entire election campaign, as well as his actions since becoming president. So this 11 day idea that is going around is a complete red herring.

  5. If you are correct - and perhaps you are - Obama has not actually done anything. Had he parted the Red Sea, got Mulsims and Jews to kiss each other, brought Democracy to North Korea, or done anything he set out to do aside from passing the "stimulus" maybe he would have deserved it. But nothing he has set out to do - yet - has actually happened. Obama got elected on what he promised to do - in fact looking at his poor Senate voting record he did little there - and now the same has happened with the Nobel.

    When people have accomplished something that is when they deserve a reward like this, and not before. Giving one encouraging words is fine but the Nobel Prize? What a joke.

  6. Parting the Red Sea? I don't see the president as that kind of miracle worker.

    I think the point you are missing, Harrison, is that--rightly or wrongly--many people in the rest of the world, especially in Europe, see America as a great potential threat to world peace. The reason Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize is that he inspired a less belligerent attitude in Americans, not that anyone is expecting him to single-handedly cause other warlike powers in the world to make peace. But if he does that, maybe they'll have to give him the prize a second time.

  7. Anyone in Europe who sees America as a "great potential to world peace" is an idiot. These are probably the same people who wouldn't stand up to defend their way of life and probably wished they could have drank Vichy water in France.

    With N. Korea having just fired 5 more missiles off its coast today I think there are bigger "problems" than the US.

    But I guess people soon forget the terror of the Taliban or Saddam Hussein or the leaders of Iran, N. Korea, the war in Georgia, the beatings in Venezuela, the political and social oppression in Cuba, or the myriad of human rights abuses in China or the terrorism in Pakistan.

  8. We (old ladies in Canada) think President Obama should have thanked the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for its graciousness, and (in his unsurpassed tele-prompter eloquence) declined the Prize. "Gentlemen, give it to me when I have brought peace to my country, and the world."

    Utterly ridiculous for anyone to accept a Peace Prize when one is still waging two wars, might have to start another one in Iran, and is still perfecting an arsenal of nuclear arms.

    Does Europe like USA more since Obama is President. NAW! Europe has never liked USA, and will never like USA. But it's easier for Europe to deal with its permanent jealousy when the USA President bows down to get a few pats on his back.

    Jean Paul Sartre refused the Nobel Prize of Literature in the 70s saying his philosophy did not allow him to be rewarded for his thinking. He also wanted to retain his freedom for any other book he might write. I thought he owed part of his thinking to Simone De Beauvoir anyhow. But I truly respected him for not taking the Prize.

    Respect is what I wish we could have given to Obama. In our view of respectable behaviour, an honourable man doesn't take a prize for what he hasn't earned yet. And doesn't need such an obvious push to accomplish what he has promised to do.

    With my best wishes, Sir.

  9. This is a well written post, and I agree that Obama deserved the Nobel.

    I think we as Americans are very unaware of the perceptions of the rest of the world. And whats worse is that we have this I don't care attitude about it.

    And by the way, anyone who thinks that the Bush administration went into Afghanistan and Iraq for humanitarian reasons is unfortunately very mistaken.